It’s entirely possible that this blogpost might be construed as blowing our own trumpets (or something) but, you know, I’m going to post it anyway. Just because it is not every day that you get such an absolutely lovely email that makes you pleased that you do what you do – and makes you want to keep doing it. So here goes:

“I would like to express my gratitude for your informing me of the captioning with The Difference Engine. I was most impressed with the high quality standard of the captions and how perfectly it fitted into the small scale one woman monologue performance of Joan.

“As a hearing aid user who lip reads, I found this technology allowed me to fully understand the whole performance with ease. I found I could read quickly ahead and be able to watch the whole show in order to capture the emotions and the visual aspect of the character’s performance. I have watched many [shows with]…closed captions which are often at the side of the stage and by the time I read them, I have missed the performance of the character…the large captions can be distracting…I thoroughly enjoyed how the captions portrayed the different voices to present the various characters within the show and the description of the music genre.

“I most definitely would use this technology again as I feel I was in control of my access and it was discreet [with] the option to glance and…the ability to read ahead. I felt integrated, as there was humour, audience participation and emotions which I felt synchronised with the rest of the audience instead of receiving the information second, later on.

“I am now a fan. Thank you Talking Birds for the technology and…Derby Theatre and Milk Production for allowing the show to be accessible.”

**In case you missed it; Here at Talking Birds we are still looking for a Tech Genius* to work with us on the further development of the Difference Engine and our other techy stuff. If you know someone who might be interested, please get them to look at this (some details including deadline dates are about to be altered, and previous applicants need not re-apply etc etc but it’ll give you the gist – if you’re interested, please do get in touch).

* This is definitely an official job title and exactly what it will say on the business cards 😉

We’re delighted to announce that The Paul Hamlyn Foundation has awarded Talking Birds funds to work further on the development of our in-pocket captioning tool, The Difference Engine. As part of this, we’re recruiting a Resident Technologist, to work alongside us and original programmer James Shuttleworth, to further develop the system and support the companies and audiences testing it. All the recruitment details for the Resident Technologist are here and we hope soon to be able to involve more companies in testing the Difference Engine on their own shows and feeding into its development. Watch, as they say, this space…IMG_1919.JPG[slightly rubbish pic of The Difference Engine in action at the Barbican the other week, captioning The Encounter by Complicite]

Arts Council England has recently announced its Changemakers Fund, to help address the lack of diversity in arts leadership. The fund is open to National Portfolio Organisations to apply jointly with an identified individual.

Talking Birds is seeking to have informal conversations with interested parties, with a view to applying jointly to the fund in order to support the development of Talking Birds’ Difference Engine. For more information on the ChangeMakers fund, click here.

In order to kick start the conversation and help frame what we might be looking to do if such a bid were to be successful, we’ve drawn up this draft person specification. If it sounds interesting, please get in touch (details below)!

Associate Producer (Difference Engine) – draft person specification

Talking Birds is looking for an Associate Producer to work particularly on the company’s new digital accessibility tool in development, The Difference Engine. We will be looking to apply jointly with this person to Arts Council England’s new Changemakers strategic fund to enable the appointment (fund expression of interest deadline 28.4.16)

Though the particular focus of this post is on the Difference Engine, we are interested in working with an individual who has the vision to imagine how it can be used as a creative tool and can act as a champion or ambassador for the system. Ideally you have experience and links into the Disability Arts sector, can champion the Difference Engine in that sector, but can also push the company’s working practice, making sure we continue to productively challenge ourselves around accessibility, casting and participation.

You will need to be a good communicator with a passion for arts and making creative ideas and accessibility go hand in hand.

You will be working alongside Talking Birds’ Co-Artistic Directors, General Manager and Resident Technologist to realise the full potential of the Difference Engine – in terms of the company’s own artistic programme, rolling it out to other artists, companies and producers, and putting it into the hands of those that can benefit from it. A crucial part of this will be working with audience user-testers in the development of both the system itself, and in the nurturing of these new audiences – for our work and work in the independent, small-scale and outdoor arts sector where access provision has historically been patchy. You will help find ways of making The Difference Engine sustainable – which might include running a crowd-funding campaign and developing relationships with funding partners.

We will work closely with you to ensure you have whatever support you need to carry out your role – which will be shaped in close collaboration with you, and informed by your strengths and interests to ensure personal and career development opportunities for you.

Please do get in touch for an informal discussion.

Email: Co-Artistic Director Janet Vaughan janet [@]

Tel: 024 7615 8330

 Notes on Arts Council Changemakers Fund

(From ACE guidance)The primary aim of the fund is to increase the diversity of senior leadership in the arts and culture by helping to develop a cohort of leaders who are Black, minority ethnic and/or disabled by means of a targeted senior leadership training and development programme, hosted by a National Portfolio Organisation or Major Partner Museum, and designed to develop the leadership skills and experience of Black, minority ethnic and disabled potential leaders. The fund supports our aim of addressing the under-representation of Black, minority ethnic and disabled senior leaders across the National portfolio and Major partner museum portfolio by providing opportunities for such potential leaders to gain relevant experience and training so they are able to compete on merit when future Artistic Director, Chief Executive or other senior leadership positions become available.

Notes on Talking Birds’ Difference Engine

The Difference Engine was devised by Talking Birds as a low-cost, always-on way of making live performance accessible through delivering captioning and audio description to the mobile devices in audience members’ pockets. The system was funded to prototype stage by Arts Council England and is now entering a year of intensive testing with small arts organisations and venues in the UK. With funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the company is currently recruiting a Resident Technologist to support the development of the Difference Engine throughout this period of testing.

For information on the background and development of the Difference Engine, see


‘My City, My Art’ is a kind of web-enabled (un)conference pairing artists in the twin cities of Coventry and Volgograd to inspire partnership, the development of new work and identify the potential for exchanges.

Part One:            8 Pecha Kucha style presentations, 4 from each city.
Part Two:            Skype-enabled twin city matchmaking event based around 8 artists’ 60 second introductory video clips.

When: 1 March 2016 15:00 – 17.00 [DOORS AT 14.30] FREE ENTRY
Where: The Tin Music & Arts, Canal Basin, Coventry

For artists, and those interested in the way cities inspire them – please join us!

There will be food provided and the venue will stay open for artists and audience to socialise afterwards.

Produced by Talking Birds in association with Pecha Kucha Coventry

Been a bit quiet on the blog front. Reckon we owe you a catch up, so here goes:

My City, My Art

With Pecha Kucha Coventry, we’re organising a web-enabled artists conference as part of the Twin Story project – linking up artists in Coventry and its twin city Volgograd. Entitled ‘My City, My Art’, the event is in two parts – the first half is powered by Pecha Kucha and the second relies on the magic of skype! It’s an event for artists, and those interested in the way cities inspire them – we’d love you to join us.

When: 1 March 2016 15:00 – 17.00
Where: The Tin Music & Arts, Canal Basin, Leicester Row, Coventry

The Difference Engine

We’re delighted to announce that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation has invested in a years worth of development on the Difference Engine. This means that we are currently recruiting a technologist to work alongside us and we will shortly be getting in touch with companies (and audience members!) who want to partner us in testing it (Hurray!).

Complicite are continuing to use the Difference Engine to caption their extraordinary binaural show, The Encounter. It is at the Barbican at the moment and heading up to Home in Manchester in March.

At the weekend, as reported in the previous post, Complicite trialled our captioning system The Difference Engine on their extraordinary and captivating show The Encounter. Without resorting to spoilers, The Encounter is told mostly through sound – and (among other things) powerfully explores memory – and the way that the brain processes, stores, re-plays and communicates memories and thoughts when we are stripped of the objects and devices that we now rely on to help record and subsequently prop up our recall/playback.

As the binaural sound is such a key feature, not only in the storytelling but in the audience’s experiencing of the story in a truly visceral way, it may seem a particularly challenging show to attempt to make accessible to a deaf or hard of hearing audience. But maybe it takes a show that, on the face of it, is so inaccessible, to throw the issue into relief – the company had to find a way to make it work. And, for what it’s worth, I think that with their direct feed to hearing aids, the copious numbers of capable technicians, and delivering captions via the Difference Engine, they really have.

Retrospectively, I can see that Talking Birds’ experience in making our work accessible has been similar. The more difficult we have (apparently) made things for ourselves, the more we have had to apply all our creative minds to devising the access solutions but, crucially, the better the subsequent show has been (with the accessibility almost a bonus).

When we made our foley-show-in-the-dark, Capsule, we made it to test the first iteration of the Difference Engine. Through the process of making the show, we ended up accidentally building in loads of extra challenges for ourselves (similarly to The Encounter, we were effectively attempting to make a show told mainly through sound available to deaf audiences) but in stepping up to tackle those challenges I think we made a blinkin’ brilliant show, a much better show than we might otherwise have made (and it was of course also accessible). Maybe it is precisely because it is difficult, that we can crank our inventiveness up a notch, a better solution is devised and an ultimately better show is made…?

Anyway, back to the captioning – just how well did the Difference Engine perform?

When we’ve used the Difference Engine on Talking Birds’ shows, I’ve generally, been the person operating (that is, feeding the captions out to the audience) and although I get feedback from those who’ve been testing the system, until Saturday I hadn’t had the chance to just sit in the audience and experience it as one of them, on a show I had not seen before – and it worked perfectly, and was actually just ridiculously exciting (in a kind of proud-parent sort of a way).

I had a long and rather excitable discussion afterwards with the staff member at Complicite who had operated the captions, and a deaf theatre-maker who had also come to user-test the system and was equally excited at how well it had worked. It is hard to write about what did and didn’t work without giving away too much about the show, but basically, technically everything worked as planned and the text was easy to follow. There was no sensation of tennis neck from looking from stage to screen and back again (which is something some people have questioned) and although there were aspects of the show where we felt the captions could have been better worded or formatted these were all things that are to do with finessing the captions as you see them in context and get user feedback. By the time they perform at the Barbican in February, I’ve no doubt that Complicite will have cracked this and it’ll all be there. After all, Saturday’s show was the first time they had used the Difference Engine – although you wouldn’t know it.

The icing on the cake was this comment which arrived later by email: “I had given up going to the theatre and live shows because of the isolation it creates when you cannot hear, particularly when the audience is laughing at something said on stage. So thank you for making this experience more inclusive.”

If you also trialled the Difference Engine’s captioning of The Encounter at Warwick Arts Centre on Saturday and would like to give us some feedback, we’d really like to hear from you – all comments are really useful as we continue to develop the system. Likewise, testers are really useful, so if you’d be interested in user-testing the system on other future projects, please get in touch with us

For those of you who are in or near London, we highly recommend you go and see The Encounter, which is next on at The Barbican in February, with captioned performances listed as Feb 28th and March 3rd.

NB: Although the Difference Engine is being developed to perform other functions too, it is the captioning that is most robust at the moment, hence Complicite using it for this show. Talking Birds is currently fundraising to continue to develop the Difference Engine. If you would like to help make it happen, you can make a donation towards this development here.

[Posted by  jv 12.10.15]

We are currently working with Complicite, who are trialling the use of The Difference Engine to make their work accessible for audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing, through captioning to mobile devices (smartphones / tablets).

They are touring their new show, The Encounter – inspired by the book, Amazon Beaming – and this weekend the show will play at Warwick Arts Centre (Saturday 10th/Sunday 11th October), before going to the Barbican in London for a 6 week run, followed by Manchester and Athens. The show opened at Edinburgh International Festival in August and has since played to sell-out audiences in Switzerland and Bristol, receiving rave reviews in the national press.

The Saturday October 10th matinee performance at Warwick Arts Centre (2pm) will be Complicite’s first shot at using the Difference Engine, and we want to gather as much feedback as possible so that we can keep improving the experience and so that we can keep developing the tool. Tickets can be booked through Warwick Arts Centre and it would be great if you go and user-test, if you could get back in touch with us afterwards to let us know what you thought. Thanks.

A mystery benefactor has set up a foundation to promote the art of queueing. The Q Foundation’s stated aims are to “promote excellence and innovation in queueing, whenever and wherever it occurs” and “celebrate the cultural distinctiveness of the British queue as a progressive post-colonial force for good.”

IMG_6311 A Queue

Moreover the group are lobbying for the recognition of queueing as an Olympic sport. “Nobody’s told us it can’t be done,” said a spokesman. “Where there’s a queue, there’s a way.” It is claimed that Britain’s celebrated Queuers could sweep the board should the activity become recognised by the IOC.

The identity of the benefactor behind the idea is a closely guarded secret, but rumours that he or she is a London-based Russian oligarch have been hotly denied. “Nyet,” said a spokesman.

Editorial notes:
The National Theatre will be hosting a masterclass by the Q Foundation by its outdoor River Stage on Friday 31st July 1.10pm onwards.


Make/Believe at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Having formed part of the award-winning UK National Exhibit at the Prague Quadrennial (the slightly less frequent Theatre Design equivalent of the Venice Biennale), the designs for Capsule and the OakMobile are now on show at the Make Believe at the V&A in London. At a packed private view last night, curator Kate Burnett praised the scope, vision and creativity of the work being done by British set and costume designers across the world. She stressed the importance of this exhibition, which runs at the Victoria & Albert museum until January 3rd 2016, as a rare but significant opportunity for the public to experience the breadth of design work being done, but also especially the ‘hidden’ work – which may not take place in traditional theatres or feature in national press reviews – but is nevertheless key to, and illustrative of, the innovation and vitality of this sector. The Prague Quadrennial Jury said “This award recognises the richness and diversity of an exhibition that shows high quality work from across the spectrum of contemporary performance design – in a variety of venues, and embracing space, light, media and costume. The complexity of the selection shows scenographers working in many different ways and, importantly, a confidence in the way scenography can shape productions and engage audiences in multiple ways.” Needless to say we’re very chuffed to be a part of this!

A Festival of Whales

As we write, the Whale is en route to Belgium to appear at the Salto Festival – which is all about whales and also features a huge professional and community cast performing a new version of Moby Dick. The script has been translated into Flemish and we’ll be training up a couple of locally-based performers to prepare to dive! If you *happen* to be in Menen this weekend, do pop along and say ‘Hallo!’.

The Talking Birds ‘fleet’ of aluminium mini-theatres on wheels has been out in force this weekend. And as we write, both the Whale and the OakMobile will now be making their respective ways back to the stables. The OakMobile has been out at CoCoMad at Cotteridge Park in Birmingham today, whilst the Whale has been down south at the Winchester Hat Fair. Do toot our lovely drivers Greg and Jonathan if you pass one of them on the road!